The toddler cried almost nonstop. Not quiet whimpers and sad sniffles. Big huge crocodile tears and wails punctuated with loud pleas for Mommy.
In most any other place, the boy's antics would have caused heads to turn and his mother's face to redden with embarrassment. But not here. The other customers barely noticed, and Ian Ravndal's mom stood nearby, nonchalantly chatting with strangers.
This is Cool Cuts 4 Kids, a new haircut chain that opened recently in the Target shopping center on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Wesley Chapel. Manager Kayla Parchment said it's a place where it's okay to cry, although they hope kids will be so distracted by their video games, movies and train set that they won't remember they don't like haircuts.
The surge in kid-based businesses like Cool Cuts seems a natural fit now that Pasco County has become home to many young families. According to the most recent U.S. Census figures available, more than 20 percent of county residents are younger than 18.
Since Cool Cuts opened in October, it's gotten a few calls about the noise from the chiropractor next door, Parchment said. But otherwise, business has been good.
The wail factor seems to be a secret behind many child-based businesses, where owners are looking to make parents feel as comfortable as possible and create environments where kids can be kids.
"I don't mind a screaming child," said Dominique Switzer, who runs the Little Lambs Children's Consignment shop at 1532 Land O' Lakes Blvd. in Lutz. "I don't mind a parent disciplining a child."
Her store, which she opened four years ago, has a playpen set up for moms to park their little ones while they browse. She also avoids the harsh "don't touch" environment in many clothing shops by making sure that toys on the floor or on low shelves are ones that children can play with.
"We try to make it easier on the mom to shop," Switzer said.
When Switzer opened her doors, the families flocked in, she said.
"We were very lucky," she said. "When we opened the doors, it started paying for itself."
She says word-of-mouth has been their best form of advertising.
"It just keeps growing. We have new people moving into the area and word just keeps spreading."
Although, Switzer said, there's more to a successful business than just targeting the right demographic.
"I have watched a lot of (kid-themed businesses) come and go," she said.
There's not a tried-and-true recipe, she said, but location is important, as well as creating the kid-friendly environment.
Carol Barrett and her husband moved to central Pasco County in 2004 to be closer to her parents. They have twin boys and are always traveling to Tampa in search of kid adventures, like going to the zoo.
They decided to open up a franchise of Gymboree, which offers scheduled playtime, classes and activities for kids in Land O' Lakes.
Since their November 2004 debut, business has been "growing like crazy," said Barrett, a former preschool teacher.
They've done some advertising, she said, but she's still surprised by new customers who say they didn't even know the center was in the strip mall on State Road 54.
There are some downsides to having your workdays full of kids.
Pam Reynolds, a stylist at Cool Cuts 4 Kids, admits she sometimes takes her job home with her.
Like last week, when her husband asked her where their map was.
In response, she sang, "Get the map, get the map," after a song from a Dora the Explorer movie she plays, and replays, in the salon.
"My husband said, "You have got to get a life.' "
Nearby, in between snips, Rhonda Rollock grabs a tissue to wipe away the tears on Ian's unhappy face. She talks about Thomas the Tank Engine roaring down the tracks on the television screen.
He's distracted for a second. But then he remembers to cry.
"You're a big boy Ian, you know it doesn't hurt," she tells him.
But he's not buying it. He's also not interested in the bell at the front of his fire engine chair.
"Very short, please," Darcy Ravndal chimes in. She's hoping to make it another two months between cuts.
"I keep trying to get my husband to do this," she says, only half-joking.
The environment at the kids' hair salon makes the 30-minute drive more than worth it, she said.
"I would not even remotely think of taking him anywhere else," she said. "Because as bad as this is, it'd be a thousand times worse somewhere else."
Heather Urquides can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or toll free, 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4613. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
No one tracks the numbers of kid-based businesses, but a look at Pasco County Tax Collector records showed the following numbers of licensed businesses in Pasco County:
Child care: 80
Toy stores: 6
Children's party entertainment: 1
Retail kids' clothing stores: 3